Why Some Sexual Assault Victims Stay Silent

When the news first broke about Bill Cosby and numerous alleged sexual assaults, I could not figure out what I believed. At first, I did find it strange that so many women waited so long to speak out against Cosby. Why now? Many articles questioned the authenticity of the women and others desperately tried to defend one of America’s favorite TV dads. I am not sure why I questioned why sexual assault victims stay silent because I too have been silent.

Will People Even Believe You?

Many people watched The Cosby Show hoping to someday attain a similar American Dream. Not to mention, there were not many successful African-American families portrayed on TV at that time. So, if you were a black person, you could not help but support and love it. Overall, it was an endearing show that appealed to people from many backgrounds. Thus, people’s first reaction was to question how a man so adored and loved could have drugged and assaulted so many women.

As more women started speaking out, I started to think that these allegations were more likely true. There were just too many women from too many different walks of life speaking out. And, if someone was “paying them” to do this, that person must be a billionaire because 39 accusers (and rising) is a lot of money to spend just to ruin another person’s reputation.

The accusers were vilified in the media by the average person and celebrities alike. Well, on July 6, news outlets revealed thatCosby admitted in 2005 to obtaining drugs with the intent to utilize them on women and that he used these drugs on at least one woman. Although these documents increased the chances the allegations were true, people still wanted to know why the majority of the women waited so long to say something.

Me Too: Finally Sharing My Truth

Bill Cosby never assaulted me and I could never speak for why these particular women kept their silence. However, I can shed some light on why I waited so long.

Fact: I am a sexual assault victim that has been keeping silent.

This is the first time I am sharing this with more than a few people. None of my siblings know. The majority of my friends have no idea. I finally told my mom a few months ago and my father still has no clue (I think). To be perfectly honest, I hope he never reads this blog post because I think his heart would break, literally. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to share. Hopefully, my story helps someone understand the emotional maze that can form in the mind of a victim of sexual assault. I also hope this gives insight into why sexual assault victims stay silent. When the assaulter is someone you have known and respected for a while, the mental maze is even more complicated.

Before I begin, let me just say a few things. If you are reading this and you know me personally, please refrain from guessing the identity of my assaulter. Chances are you will be wrong and draw damaging false conclusions in your head. If you would like to know or have more questions, contact me directly. Secondly, and sadly, I have never brought charges against this person. For that reason, I will not include too many details here.

So with that, let’s get into my story and the mental maze.

Why Some Sexual Assault Victims Stay Silent

  • Shock: Without getting too deep into the details of who, what, when, where, why, and how (it would be very long and likely blow your mind), I will undoubtedly say that the first emotion I experienced was SHOCK. I never in a million years thought that I would be a victim of sexual assault. My assaulter was someone that I respected and interacted with on a daily/weekly basis throughout my high school career. My friends and teammates also highly respected this person and he was very close to some of their families. Never believing this would happen to me is probably one of the reasons my first emotion was shock. I watched movies and shows involving sexual assault and always imagined that I would use some major fight moves to escape such a situation if it ever happened to me. Sadly, my moves failed me.

  • Questioning: “What is he doing? What should I do? How do I get out of here? What did I do to give this person the impression that I wanted this? Were there signs about this person that I missed? What will my parents say? Will my friends who love this person believe me? Has this happened to anyone else? What will happen to this person if I tell? And the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, in my case, the biggest question in my head then (and to some extent now) is “what did I ever do to make this man do this to me?” Logically, I know that I absolutely did nothing. All my interactions with this person were always surrounding sports or life, yet this question still baffles me. I can only imagine how this question plagues the minds of other victims of sexual assault.

  • Blaming Yourself: This thought/emotion follows the many questions. Regardless of the innocence you know you have in the situation, it can be extremely difficult to refrain from second-guessing how you handled the situation before, during, and after the act. This person assaulted me numerous times, so I blame myself for not saying something to someone after the first instance. I always considered myself to be a strong person, so I was disappointed that I didn’t speak out. I felt weak and ashamed. Instead, I worried more about how all my friends’ lives would change if I said something. This person was a father figure to some of my teammates and others depended on this person’s expertise to open doors for athletic scholarships. If I said something, I might ruin their lives, or at least that’s what I thought at the time. I blamed myself for my silence.

  • Feeling Guilty for Ruining the Abuser’s Life: This one might be a little hard for you to understand. Since I spent a significant amount of time with this person, I knew a lot about this person’s life. He was not married, had no kids, very few friends, spent the most time working, and spent little time with family due to distance. Before the incident, I often felt very bad for this person. My friends and I even spent time joking about how he should date different older women that we knew or how he needed to go partying with his friends and switch up the work-home-work routine. I felt pity and could understand how someone like this person could become desperate and dysfunctional. So, when faced with the option to put this person in jail and destroy the little life he had, I couldn’t do it. In hindsight, I wish I did. No one deserves what I went through. He should have thought more about his life before he chose to assault young women.

  • Letting other people down:  As I contemplated whether I would speak up, I was torn between the right thing to do and the many people that would be devastated by the news. First, my parents. One of my parent’s warnings and concerns was always to be safe at all times. They did everything they could to keep their children out of harm. How was I going to break this news to them? I was afraid they would never let me go anywhere else throughout high school, and more importantly, that my little sister would never get to go anywhere without my parents panicking. So, I said nothing. Secondly, my friends. How would they take the news that one of their favorite people was a creepy assaulter? I didn’t know if he was assaulting them too. I tried to watch for changes in their behavior, but I couldn’t find any. In my uncertainty, I kept quiet. In the end, I confronted the person about it (it didn’t go well) and used my strength to navigate away from that person. The sad news: I couldn’t avoid being around the person on a weekly/daily basis so I pretended to be okay so that my friends would not figure out the truth.

  • Feeling tainted and unwanted: I know. This emotion/thought makes no sense. Because of all the varying ranges of sexual assault we see in the media, I thought that people might view me as scarred and damaged goods. How will my boyfriend react if I tell him I was sexually assaulted? Will that image stay in his mind forever? Will he still want me? I was a teenager and these were the thoughts running through my teenage mind. Sad, but true.

  • Comparison: Who am I to complain? At least I wasn’t raped in a back alley by some stranger and then strangled to death. At least I wasn’t molested by one of my family members. At least… At least… At least. You know the saying “someone always has it worse than you?” Well, this is probably a sexual assault victim’s worse enemy. Although what happened to me was traumatic, it was not the worse case of sexual assault that I ever heard of. I was not drugged, beaten, or killed. Therefore, I kept telling myself to get over it and move on, to stop feeling sorry for myself and be grateful that something worse didn’t happen. Why ruin this person’s life and make a big deal when it wasn’t “that bad?” Right? It made no sense, but like I said, the emotions are like a roller coaster and the mind like a maze.

  • Feeling Alone and Misunderstood: Carrying the burden of silence sucks both emotionally and mentally. You really want to scream at the top of your lungs about the emotional confusion you are going through, but at the same time, you know that you can’t bring yourself to say something (for some of the reasons already outlined in this post). Of course, I thought I never changed emotionally and believed that no one would see the pain that I was in. However, I may have been successful on the outside but was failing miserably on the inside. It manifested in many different ways. I didn’t want to get up for school in the morning and was constantly late. I felt depressed behind my laughs and bubbly personality. I failed classes in school that as an A and B student I never thought I would fail. I overcompensated in other relationships because they felt safe. And, I strained my relationship with my mom because she confronted me on different occasions about the “change in attitude” and of course, I always replied, “I am fine.” For a long time, I felt alone and misunderstood. I isolated myself from certain people to cope and would keep many people at arm’s length so they wouldn’t indirectly figure out my secret.

  • Depression: It is a great misconception that the only depressed people are those that never get out of bed, eat tubs of ice cream, cry often, isolate, and walk with their heads down. Well, sadly, due to my little secret I can say that I struggled with depression behind my bright smile and all my laughs. This is not to say that my love of laughter was a facade, but it does mean that sometimes my laughter was to keep from crying. It also means that at night when the laughter stopped, I often cried. Yet on the bright side, I can unequivocally say that it means that my laughter and smile saved me.

For any woman that sat or sits in silence suffering in the mental maze, I stand in solidarity with you.

The emotions and thoughts above are from my story, but I know so many other victims can relate. I also know that I cannot and do not speak for every situation or every person. It is sad that society and certain circumstances make it difficult for people to feel that they can speak out against respected and well-known people when they have committed wrongdoings. And then we have the nerve to wonder why sexual assault victims stay silent.

Unfortunately, at first, the 39+ women in the Cosby case were thought to be liars. Now hearing the truth, I feel sad that they had to carry this burden for so long. The emotional trauma that lingers in the life of someone that never had the opportunity to share their hurt and trauma is complex. It undoubtedly affected many areas of their lives that they might never be able to go back and change. They often carry the burden alone and have to figure out different ways to cope with their moments of confusion, sadness, and even rage. Hopefully, at some point throughout their silence, they were able to find healing.

Yes, Bill Cosby has done great things for American TV, and Black people in film, comedy, philanthropy, and education; and, he might also be a sexual abuser (technically in the American justice system he is innocent until proven guilty). If guilty, his successes should not trump the pain he has caused many women. [Update from the future: He was found guilty and sentenced to time in prison.]

Let’s use this as a lesson. If you are still questioning why sexual assault victims take so long to speak out about their assault, I hope that this blog post has at least shed a little bit of light on that.

If you know of someone who has been sexually assaulted and has had to keep it a secret (for whatever reason), or if you have been the victim of sexual assault, I hope that one day you will be able to share your story. You are not alone.

#breakthesilence

Related Post: The Conundrum of Being Strong

6 thoughts on “Why Some Sexual Assault Victims Stay Silent

  1. Thank you. This post is beyond helpful. I was 5. It was my best friends dad. It only happened once, but we lived in the same apartment complex. Among my best friend, she had two other sisters. I always wondered if they had been victims too. I remember i told my mother right after it happened. She was folding laundry. She only said “Well, just don’t go over there anymore.” Period. End of story. 10-12 years later i asked her why? Why didn’t you do anything about it? She says she doesn’t even remember me telling her.. Nothing from that moment. And I became angry. My mother is a good person. She is. I’ve just always been so lost about what happened and how it was dealt with. I appreciate you speaking about some of the things we go through as we grow up and how we deal with things. I know I’m not alone. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story Ann! I can only imagine the level of anger you felt when your mother said she didn’t even remember! You know, I thought I completely moved on from this situation many, many years ago, but I realize there was still a small weight on me when I pressed publish on this blog post. I hope that reading my story will also help you lift that last little weight off your shoulders. It is really a complex situation, but we are not alone! Much love to you!

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